Duel in the Savanna
By Wanjiru Waithaka
Copyright ©2015 All Rights Reserved
A few days earlier…
Everything about the room was white and sterile. White walls, white venetian blinds, white sheets on the bed where she lay, white tiles on the floor, a long white fluorescent tube illuminating the room with bright light, stainless steel basins containing steel instruments and cotton wool on the table beside her.
The smell of antiseptic clung to the air, a typical hospital smell that Sophie disliked. Dr Kwame sat on a stool in front of her, getting ready to do the ultrasound to see what he was dealing with before proceeding with the abortion. He’d explained the process a few minutes before.
Afterwards, Sophie had emptied her mind of all thoughts. It was now as sterile as the white room she lay in. Dr Kwame spread the lubricating jelly on her belly, then placed the probe on her skin and turned his attention to the monitor beside him. It looked expensive. Not that Sophie knew anything about such things.
Everything about this clinic looked expensive and shiny and metallic. State of the art. That’s how Luke would have described it. She winced at the thought of her brother and pushed all thoughts out of her head, her mind totally blank once more.
“Are you okay?” Carol, who sat on a chair beside her touched her shoulder gently. Sophie nodded. She’d told her best friend the whole story yesterday evening before reporting to work for the night shift as usual. Carol had reacted as Sophie expected – with anger, yelling insults at that ‘no good son of a bitch’.
Sophie waited patiently for the tirade to end then told her friend that she just wanted someone with her to make sure she didn’t pass out on the street outside the clinic. She didn’t want drama. If Carol wanted to help her, she needed to stay calm. No talking about Tony. Carol had agreed and they’d made plans to meet at the clinic this morning.
Beyond inquiring now and then if she was fine, Carol stayed silent and supportive. Just what Sophie needed. She wished she could stare out the small window and see the sky, but the blinds were drawn across it. So she stared at the doctor instead.
Dr Kwame was about 45 years old, a sprinkling of grey already showing on the sides of his head, hair cropped close to his scalp, almost like an army crew cut. Reading glasses hung from a black cord around the collar of his white coat, underneath which he wore a blue and grey striped shirt over black trousers.
He had a fatherly look about him that had made Sophie feel instantly at ease in his presence. After the nurse had taken her blood pressure and pulse, she’d brought her into this room, told her to undress behind the white curtain at one corner and wear the pale blue gown hanging on a hook. She’d pointed out the blue slippers on the floor, then left her alone.
Sophie was watching Dr Kwame so keenly that she immediately noticed his change of expression as a tiny frown creased his forehead. He glanced at the nurse standing silently on the other side of the bed then turned back to the monitor.
“Is something wrong?” Sophie asked worriedly, looking from one to the other.
“Did you do an ultrasound before today?” She shook her head. “I see two heartbeats.”
Sophie looked puzzled for a minute then her eyes widened in surprise. “I’m pregnant with twins?”
“Yes.” He watched her for a long moment. “How do you feel about that?”
Sophie stared around the room dazed. “Nothing. I feel nothing.”
“Does this change anything? You can still go ahead right?” Carol asked, after an anxious glance at her friend.
“Yes. I’m ready to proceed.” Dr Kwame rolled the monitor away from the bed and picked up a speculum from the instrument tray beside him. “Scooch down and put your feet in the stirrups so that I can do a pelvic exam.” Sophie did as instructed.
“Everything looks good. I’m going to give you the local anaesthesia now. You won’t feel pain, just a slight burning sensation for a few seconds, then you’ll feel nothing after that.” He spoke in a quiet voice, confident and soothing. He held out his hand for the needle.
Dr Kwame looked up at her, a gentle expression on his face. “It won’t hurt, I promise. Just close your eyes, take a deep breath and by the time you open them, it’ll be over,” he reassured her.
“That’s not it.”
“I can’t do this. I need more time to think.” Sophie sat up, balancing her weight on her elbows. “I just need a minute, please,” she pleaded.
Dr Kwame sighed. “Ok. We’ll give you some privacy.” He gestured to the nurse who preceded him out of the room.
“Sophie what are you doing? I thought you were sure about this?” Carol asked her friend, her voice soft and soothing. Sophie removed her feet from the stirrups, swung her legs over the side of the bed and buried her face in her hands.
“He said I’m pregnant with twins.” Her voice was soft and there was a faraway expression in her eyes when she looked up.
“That doesn’t change anything does it?”
“I need a favour.” Sophie glanced at the door. “Please get the nurse.” Carol left the room and came back with Sandra. “This is going to sound really strange…”
“Just ask. I’m here to help, whatever you need,” the nurse reassured her with a smile.
“Can you get me a bible?” Carol’s eyebrows shot up at the odd request but she said nothing. The nurse’s expression didn’t change. She left the room and came back five minutes later with a small book which she placed in Sophie’s hands. Sophie opened it and began to turn the pages distractedly.
“Anything in particular you’re looking for?” the nurse asked, after a minute or two.
“Something about grass in the fields and birds not worrying about food and clothes…”
“I think you mean the Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes?”
“Yeah that sounds about right.” The nurse took the bible from her and flipped the pages until she came to Mathew 6:25, then handed it back to Sophie, pointing out the relevant verse.
Sophie read the verse, continued reading until verse 34 then went back and reread the whole thing. She looked up tears in her eyes. The other women didn’t speak, just waited for her to compose herself.
“A few days ago, I didn’t know what to do. I was really desperate, so I asked God to give me a sign telling me if I should keep the baby. There was no answer. Then I went to Tony’s house and found him with Christine. I thought that was it, just get rid of the baby and start over. It seemed like the most sensible thing to do.” She stopped and stared at the bible in her hands. “Dr Kwame said I’m pregnant with twins. That’s the sign I was looking for.”
“Sophie, are you sure? One baby is enough of a burden. But two?” Carol asked softly.
“Don’t you see? That’s what He’s trying to tell me. I was worried about taking care of one baby. But He’s God, that’s nothing to Him. He’s given me two, to show me that He can do anything.”
“Now you’re not making any sense,” Carol argued.
Sophie sighed. “Carol, there are no guarantees in life. Husbands die every day and leave their wives to raise children on their own. And they manage somehow. Mum managed to raise all seven of us on her own after father left. I think that’s what God is trying to tell me. Everything seems hopeless right now. I have no idea how I’m going to do this. And yet, I now know that everything will be all right.”
“Sophie, I’m your best friend. I’ll support you whatever you decide. But this is crazy.”
“I never wanted the abortion.” Sophie paused for a long moment, deep in thought. “But Tony kept insisting and when I saw him with Christine, that’s when it hit me that I was truly on my own. I got scared. It seemed impossible to do this alone. But this,” she clasped the bible to her chest. “This tells me it’s possible. God will take care of us. We’ll never be rich, but we’ll have enough. I have faith.”
She got up and went to the curtained off corner of the room where she’d left her clothes. “Tell Dr Kwame I’ve changed my mind. I’m keeping my babies.” She went behind the curtain and emerged a few minutes later, fully dressed.
“What will you tell Tony?”
“What? He may not agree with your decision but it takes two to tango. He can help, it’s his responsibility,” said Carol.
“He already convinced me once to get rid of them. I’m not sure I’m strong enough to go against him if he keeps insisting on the abortion,” Sophie argued. “And if he really doesn’t want the children, I don’t want to force them on him. I’ll be their mother and father.”
A sad look crept into her eyes as she placed a hand protectively over her belly, thinking about her own father and how he’d abandoned his children. Now history was repeating itself. What a cruel joke.
“This is insane. He can help financially. There’s no reason for you to struggle alone.”
“He doesn’t want us Carol. He made that very clear and I’m not going to beg,” Sophie insisted, lips set in determination. She took a deep breath and turned to the nurse. “I’m going to disappear for a while, just until abortion is no longer a viable option. If Tony comes here, you can’t tell him that I didn’t go through with it.”
“Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me,” the nurse replied.
“Please tell Dr Kwame I’m ready to speak to him now.”
“Where are you going to go?” asked Carol, as the nurse walked to the door.
Sophie sank down into the chair that Carol had previously occupied. “I don’t know.” They stayed silent, lost in thought until the doctor came back into the room. Sophie explained her decision to him.
“You’re sure about this?” he asked. Sophie nodded.
“You can’t tell Tony. If I know him, he’ll come here and ask questions. If you tell him, I’ll report this clinic to the authorities. Abortion is illegal.”
A frown of irritation crossed the doctor’s face. “There’s no need for threats Sophie. Under doctor patient confidentiality I can’t talk to anyone about you.”
“Even the father of the babies?”
“Even him. Certainly not without your permission,” he assured her.
“I’m sorry.” For a moment Sophie felt ashamed of her crass and tactless comment. “I just really need to protect myself from him. He’ll force me to do it.”
“I understand. All the best. The road ahead will be tough but if you’re sure this is what you want then so be it. Nurse Sandra will refund your fee,” said Dr Kwame.
Sophie closed the gap between them and stretched out her hand which he shook. “Thank you for everything.” He nodded and left the room.
The nurse, who had been standing at the door came further into the room. “I don’t mean to interfere, but I overheard you saying you didn’t know where to go. Perhaps I can help.” She held out a leaflet which Sophie took.
“The Sisters of Mercy run a home where they take in pregnant girls with nowhere to go. They will take care of you until the babies are born. After that you have the option of putting them up for adoption or raising them yourself. They can help you get a job. It won’t cost you anything. The home is funded by the church and other donors. If you get stuck give me a call and I’ll get you in.” The nurse handed her a card.
Sophie smiled at her gratefully. “Thank you. I’ll definitely consider it.”
Carol stared at the nurse thoughtfully. “What is someone like you doing in a place like this?” she finally asked curiously.
“I had an abortion once, a long time ago,” the middle aged woman began with a smile. “I didn’t have any money, my boyfriend threw me out and my family disowned me so I went to one of those quacks on River Road. He used a metal rod to try and get my uterus to expel the baby.” Carol winced. Sophie stared at her in horror.
“Two hours later I started bleeding and collapsed on the street. Good Samaritans rushed me to Mokeba National Hospital. The doctors managed to control the bleeding but I got a severe infection – from the metal rod the guy had used. They were forced to remove my uterus. The Sisters of Mercy found me at the hospital and after I was discharged, took me in and nursed me back to health. That’s when I discovered that they take in pregnant girls. If I’d known I had more options, I might not have gone to the quack. So now I try to help other girls.”
She paused and looked from one to the other. “What better place than here, where girls come desperate, thinking they have no choice but to terminate? If I can save even one child, that’s good enough for me.”
Sophie impulsively hugged her, teary eyed. “I’m so sorry about what happened to you.”
The nurse smiled. “I’m healed Sophie, both body and soul. You take care of yourself and call me if you need help. Day or night, I’m here to help, if I can.”
Sophie knew she had until the night shift tomorrow night, the earliest that Tony would look for her, when she was supposed to report back to work. Not much time, but she would have to make the best of it. They left the clinic and went to Carol’s hostel room where they now sat discussing Sophie’s next steps.
She had just finished writing a resignation letter to the hotel. “I’ll need you to deliver this for me. Take it to Gemini Plaza. The hotel has a drop box there for incoming mail which is collected every morning. If you take it before 5pm, they’ll receive it tomorrow morning,” she told Carol, licking the envelope to seal the letter.
Her friend nodded. Sophie put another note into an envelope, which she addressed to Tony. “When he comes looking for me, give him this.”
“What about Josh, Helen and the others? What do I tell them?”
Sophie thought for a few seconds. “Tell them I went to shags for a few days. If they ask for more details just say there was a family emergency.”
“Ok.” They sat in silence for a few minutes. “Where are you going to go?” Carol finally asked her friend in a worried tone.
“I was thinking of my aunt’s place, my mum’s sister. She moved to Luzi a year ago. I’ve never been there but it shouldn’t be too hard to find. It’s next to Kivulini Hotel.”
“That’s really far.”
“I know. But mum adores her. She’ll know the best way to break the news to her. This will kill her. Oh God what have I done?” Sophie buried her face in her hands in anguish. Carol stood up from the bed and went to the desk where her friend sat, put an arm around her shoulders and tried to comfort her.
“She’ll be so disappointed in me. Luke too. I was supposed to finish school, get a job and help them take care of the others. Now I’m just another burden to them,” Sophie sobbed.
“You’re not a burden Sophie, stop saying that,” Carol soothed her. “They might just surprise you. Give them a chance.”
“I can’t face them Carol, I’m just so ashamed.” Her breath hitched as she tried to compose herself. After a few minutes she got up and picked up her bag. “I need to go and book a bus ticket.”
Carol stared at her friend in compassion. “You’re travelling tonight?” Sophie nodded. “Everything is moving so fast.”
“I know. I’m terrified. I just wish I could slow things down, get more time to think.”
“Why don’t you stay here for a few days? You can go to Luzi over the weekend.”
“I can’t. This is the first place Tony will come looking for me,” Sophie replied. “Actually, make that the second place. He’ll go to Ngairo first.”
“What about my home? He’ll never look for you there,” Carol suggested.
Sophie hesitated. “Your parents won’t mind? I don’t want to be a bother.”
Carol hugged her friend. “Of course not. They love hosting my friends.” She took her hand and pulled her down to the bed where they sat facing each other. “It will be good for you to relax for a few days. I’ll operate from there so that we can spend the evenings together after I come from class. Come on, what do you say?”
Sophie smiled tearfully at her friend. “Okay, I accept.”
“Great. Go to Ngairo and pack your things. I’ll drop off your resignation letter and book your bus ticket for Saturday morning then we’ll meet back here and go to my home.”
Two hours later, Sophie looked around the apartment she shared with Luke as if to memorise each detail. She had no idea how long it would be before she came back here, if at all. She’d been happy here. She remembered all the conversations they’d had, movies they’d watched together, the occasional visit to the neighbourhood pub where he hung out with his friends.
They’d gotten so close in the two years she lived here with him. She had moved in soon after getting her Form 4 exam results as they searched for a college for her to enrol in. She would miss him terribly. She placed an envelope containing the note she’d written to him on the coffee table and with a last lingering look around the living room, walked to the door where she’d left the bag filled with her clothes.
She exited the apartment and walked slowly down the stairs. A feeling of intense loneliness crept over her. She was uprooting her life once again. But unlike before when she’d been filled with hope and excitement about leaving high school behind and embracing college life and a job, all Sophie felt now was a sense of despair and anxiety about what lay ahead.
She whispered a prayer for strength as she walked to the bus stop, into the new chapter of her life.